Call it a necessary evil, homework for the unemployed, or basic intel analysis. Regardless of words you use to describe the process of “researching an employer” what matters is that you actually do it.

Here are some of the excellent reasons why:

  • You want your first job out of uniform to be a good one and not the titanic mistake of a lifetime.
  • You want there to be a good, solid match between your skills and the needs of an employer and you want to be able to clearly show that fit when the time comes.
  • You want to put yourself in the best negotiating position possible should you find yourself being offered a job.
  • You want to outshine the competition, because you know all too well that you’re not the only one wanting a good job these days.
  • You don’t want to look monumentally stupid during a job interview.

Let’s move on from the why of the matter to the nitty-gritty how of it so that you can move on with your career transition.

The On-Line Strategy

Let’s knock out the obvious, shall we?

Locate the official company website. Before you begin to read a word of it, however, note your first impression of it.

What image does the company project at first glance? Do conservative colors and formality hit you square in the eyes? Or are you visually assaulted with bold splashes of color and eye-catching graphics?

File your first impression away mentally for future reference. You may be able customize your cover letter and resume using a similar stylistic approach.  Color the concept touchy-feely if you must, but on a subliminal level you may be showing the employer that you already fit in with the culture.

Now, shelve your inner organizational psychologist and move on with your website analysis.  As you peruse the company’s digital footprint, find the answer to these types of questions:

  • How long has the company been in business? Have they been around for years? Does that longevity suggest marketplace stability and/or perhaps potential mind-numbing bureaucracy? Or is the company a younger one where unbridled creativity and a penchant for risk might be appreciated if not underpaid?
  • What types of services and/or products do they offer on the surface? Beneath that surface? Rolex, for a timely example, may be in the watch making business but make no mistake about it, they are in the business of selling a specific lifestyle.
  • How is the company structured? Is it privately owned or publicly traded? Thinking forward, Enron-like fears aside, could you potentially end up in a sweet stock purchase plan as an employee?  Go further and check out their “Careers” section where you can not only identify open positions but also get an overview of benefits offered.
  • Where is the company located? Does it operate only within the United States or abroad, or both? Would you be working in a headquarters environment, or elsewhere?
  • How big is the company? How many are employed there?  Do they employ primarily full-timers, shift-workers or contractors?
  • Is the company financially fit? If the company is publicly traded, you should be able to locate its annual financial report easily.

Go beyond the company’s website.

After analyzing the official company website, dig deeper. Explore their presence on popular social networking sites.

  • How does the company position itself? What about employees?
  • Do those cyber-identities seem to agree with one another or is there a digital contradiction?
  • Do you find any disgruntled employees or organizational whistle-blowers out there?

Don’t stop at social media. Check out the company as it appears in the news, as well.

  • Is the company planning layoffs?
  • Is there any negative news surrounding the company?
  • Are they hiring or growing?

Last, but not least, identify the top competitors of your would-be employer. What do they do better? Worse? How could you help them excel over the others or catch up to them? Develop concrete examples that point your skills and experiences and you’ve scored some seriously useful interview fodder along the way.

Your Off-Line Strategy

On-line research is not enough. You have to extend your investigative probe to the real world as well.  This is where your savvy networking abilities come heavily into play.

Network with any known employees of the company.

  • Find out how they like working there.
  • Ask them about the challenges facing the company and what is currently being done to address them.
  • If the relationship is familiar one, ever so gently try to get a feel for the salary situation but don’t press the subject.

Expand your network of known employees.

  • Be a joiner. Join any professional organizations that might put you in contact with company insiders.
  • If invited, don’t turn down invites to happy hour or other work-related gatherings, either.

By conducting effective employer research, both on- and off-line, you give yourself the knowledge you need to make the right career moves.

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.